The age of consent refers to the minimum age when a person can legally consent to sexual activity. The age of consent in most states in the United States is between 16 and 18. In Wisconsin, the age of consent for sexual activity is 18 years old.
At this age, a person can legally consent to sexual activity with any adult, regardless of the age difference between them. Wisconsin is one of 11 states where the age of consent if 18. The remaining U.S. states have consent ages of 16 or 17.
Although federal law in the U.S. does speak to certain crimes of sexual predators against minors, age of consent is an issue that is decided in each state, individually.
Originally, of course, there was no such things as an age of consent. Once laws began to be put into place regarding age of consent (largely in the 1800s), the ages were set quite low. As we moved into the 19th and early 20th centuries, most states began raising their age of consent to at least 16.
It also worth noting that, historically, age of consent laws applied to heterosexual activity, and in cases where the female was the younger person involved. This has since been remedied so that laws apply whether the underage person is female or male, and apply to homosexual activity, as well.
The age of consent laws were largely written to protect underage persons from being taking advantage of by someone significantly older. Therefore, many states allow for an exception where the parties to the activity are quite close in age.
These are also often referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” laws. However, unlike the majority of states, Wisconsin does not have a close-in-age exception. This means that a minor under the age of consent cannot consent to sexual intercourse with a person who is not a minor but is close to the same age.
For example, if a 17-year-old minor and an 18-year-old engage in sexual activity, the older partner is legally committing a crime. Further, it is irrelevant even if there is only a 1 day age difference between them, or if the next day, their conduct would be perfectly legal.
However, if there is a marriage between two such parties, the law does provide an exception, if the minor is 16 years of age or older. If the minor is under 16 years of age, a crime is still committed.
Wisconsin Courts punish violators severely. In the most extreme cases (i.e. sex with a person under 13), violators can be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison. There are degrees of misdemeanor and felony offenses, with jail sentences and fines varying accordingly, depending upon the nature of the crime and the age of the minor in question.
In general, regarding age of consent, sexual activity of a legal adult with a child under the age of 16 is a felony in Wisconsin. Sex with a minor over the age of 16 that does not meet any exceptions is a misdemeanor.
Additionally, Wisconsin law provides that, in some cases, parents may be charged with a felony for failing to prevent their child under the age of 16 from engaging in sexual activity. This primarily occurs when the parent had knowledge that the activity would occur.
Since individual states decide their own ages of consent, federal law does not deal with this issue, specifically. However, there are some federal laws designed to prevent sexual predators from committing certain crimes involving minors in a range of ages, depending upon the crime. For example, the possession of sexually explicit images of anyone under the age of 18 is a federal crime, regardless of age of consent issues.
Due to the federal power of regulating interstate commerce, it is also a federal crime to travel across state lines or transport minors across state lines for purposes of sexual activity. Enticing minors via interstate communication (the United States Postal Service, for example) is a crime. In cases where federal law conflicts with state law, federal law prevails.
If you may have committed statutory rape by engaging in sex with a minor, then you should contact a local criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer can help you determine whether there is a legal basis against you. They can also help you determine whether there are any defenses to the crime, such as marriage to the minor, if they are 16 or older. If so, the lawyer can help defend you or reduce your sentence.